PESHAWAR: In 1997, 20-year-old Nayyar Khan went for a gallbladder surgery; almost a decade later she tested positive for HIV.
Today, she is heading the Association of People Living with HIV in Pakistan (APLHP), the first woman from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) to do so.
Nayyar’s life changed due to a complication during the surgery. The doctors treating her at Hayatabad Medical Complex believed she needed a blood transfusion and carried out the procedure without a blood test. Her surgery, however, was successful, and she recovered soon after.
Some years later in 2005 she got married. The following year, Nayyar’s world came crashing down when she felt her body going weak and realised something was wrong.
“I will never forget the day when the doctors told me I was HIV positive,” she said. “At that time I told the doctors to inject me with poison. I did not know how to deal with it.”
Doctors told Nayyar that AIDS was caused by HIV, a human immunodeficiency virus which damages the body’s defence mechanism.
A matriculate from Peshawar, Nayyar felt her husband would have left her if he found out. After the birth of their two daughters, however, Nayyar knows her husband was in it for the long haul.
“In the beginning I did not want to tell my husband because I thought he would have left me and that would have made my life very difficult,” she reminisced. “My doctors gave me courage. They said death was an eventuality and I should not be afraid of living my life to the fullest. They said if I received proper treatment, I would be healthy.”
Ten days after the diagnosis, Nayyar mustered the courage to tell her husband. “He was upset at first but then said I was his wife and he would never leave me alone,” she said. “We are living together happily with our two daughters now. All three of them are HIV negative even though we share a living space.”
A step forward
Khan became president of the association in 2010. Her goal is to improve the life of people living with HIV/AIDS in Pakistan, especially K-P. She wants to help HIV patients and their families improve their quality of life and help them become an active part of society.
While talking to The Express Tribune about her association, Nayyar said APLHP was a national level network for the HIV positive community of Pakistan.
The association is there to protect the rights of people living with HIV and ensure that they live their lives with dignity. Advocacy, lobbying, capacity building, policy, dialogue and social mobilisation are some of the areas the APLHP focuses on. The association also aims to contribute to the national response on the HIV epidemic.
Living with Aids
The Association of People Living with HIV in Pakistan was initiated in 2006 and became a reality in 2008. According to Nayyar, they owed a special thanks to the UNAIDS which helped set up the national network.
The association is a democratically elected body consisting of HIV patients from across the country. It is run by the national coordinator. General members are registered members of the association who work on a volunteer basis.
The general body elects 10 federal board members from across Pakistan.
Nayyar claimed their goal was to prevent HIV from spreading and to implement greater involvement of people living with HIV and AIDS.
She shared anti-retroviral therapy was not the complete cure but helped control the disease and could help patients live a long healthy life.
It is normally taken as a combination of three drugs to be taken twice a day for the rest of their lives.
Nayyar said more than 5,000 people died every year in the country because of HIV.
“A large number of women from K-P and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas left their husbands because they were diagnosed with HIV,” she said. “They are facing many difficulties now. In tribal areas, the ratio of female HIV patients is very high as many of their men work abroad and have more than two wives. Due to one man’s indiscretions, many women could be in danger.”
New beginnings: My life with HIV
Thirty-five-year-old carpenter Irshad Khan was diagnosed with HIV while applying for a work permit to Saudi Arabia seven years ago.
“During my medical examination, the doctors told me I was HIV positive,” said the father of three. “I was very upset and did not know what to do as I am poor and could not afford expensive treatment.” He added for the first few months his health kept getting from bad to worse till a friend suggested he should go to the Hayatabad Medical Complex’s HIV/AIDS treatment centre.
He is now living a normal life and getting treated at the clinic.
Irshad said he got HIV through an infected needle as doctors in villages used the same syringe for more than one person.